There and Back Again: Triangulating the relevance of the third Hobbit film

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The third hobbit film may be the most politically relevant film of this decade.

Don’t worry. I’m not crazy. The past few weeks haven’t gotten the best of me.
While the film was clearly released well before the past election cycle, what else can be deduced from a film that focuses on a gold-crazed tyrant, obsessed with loyalty while accusing even his kin of betrayal and dishonesty, resolved only to belligerence and war, standing atop a barricade hurling epithets at a beleaguered crowd of blue collar workers and their families after originally promising them salvation? His fellow cadre of white dwarves look on glumly as their once great king descends into childish opprobrium. They too, at their dear leader’s request, eschew diplomacy for the building of walls and the pursuit of isolationism.

Aside from the film’s haruspicious quality, contemporaneous metaphors abound.
There are the immolated townsfolk of Lake Town to consider, unwittingly consumed in the fires of a conflict they neither invited nor deserved. While these uncanny refugees seek the safety of a new city, faraway factions engage in injurious gerrymandering and fractious politics. One accuses the other of sedition, both incessantly squabble over wealth. They never do get around to resolving their differences, and all the while oblivious to the more pressing needs of the starving masses and especially the greater danger of an army of ideological zealots “bred for war” amassing at their borders, even when incontrovertible proofs are brought before each.

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Or what about that flamboyant, Aryan elf tyrant, obsessed with cultural trinkets of his past, or that mindless army of trolls (and orcs), lorded over by a repulsive, white abomination, hell-bent only upon the destruction of all that is good, green and virtuous?

What else to make of a film that includes a dizzying array of villains, traitors, factions and alliances all seeking to claim Erebor–that once proud city on a hill, overtaken by a gold-hoarding dragon and polluted with its “sickness”–all envious of the land’s power and covetous of its strategic position and resources?

The inevitability of their conflict is promised by the film’s very title, and the film itself never bothers to suggest any alternative to war.

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The battle itself is an incessant bevy of artificial trickery and computer manipulated artifice; a dazzling array of actions that defy all known facts of science, physics especially. The result: a logic defying marathon serving as a potent pharmacological opium of media effects to overwhelm and incapacitate the mind. Resistance to the manufactured image is futile. A potent analogue to this effect recurs in the figure of blind troll soldier, prompted to action by the ocular manipulations of its puppeteer, who controls its every move by pulling the chains tethered to its eyes. Move right, swing left. Obey. When the troll is ultimately co-opted by one of the dwarves to assault its own orc troops, culminating in an absurd rockem-sockem fight against another troll, the fantastical parody turns ironic: thank goodness this troll was never able to really open its eyes to the world around it or else that dwarf would’ve had some explaining to do.

The film is at its most bitingly satirical when its conclusion reminds us that this whole narrative of morbid excess was the confused reminiscences of a geriatric hobbit, pathetically grasping the treasured memento of his vainglorious youth and dragging the audience unwittingly along in his nostalgia. Is the murky picture becoming clear? As if to help us out, the film literally ends by drawing us a map.

Perhaps adding true sting to its allegorical charges is the lame fact that a two page non-sequitur in a children’s fairy story published 80 years ago, that battle of the five armies which lends the film its name, serves as the template for a shambolic, bloated, meandering conclusion to a series of absurd events stretched well beyond its prime and tenure. It bears repeating and remembering that Trump’s bid to run for president began as a lame joke at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2011, for to alternatively quote a fine old dame, “much that was once forgotten is now lost, for none now care who remember”.

The film is perhaps the most effective of the trilogy if only because there are no longer any real human actors left to bore us, no dialogue with which to engage, no ideas of consequence to debate; like the real world, there remains only a brute war of unbearable attrition against everyone.

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